Hand Held Heaven: Chorizo And Sweet Potato Empanadas

Hand Held Heaven: Chorizo And Sweet Potato Empanadas

By Chef Phillip Schaaf

The dumpling

Dumplings of all shapes, sizes and stuffing show up in almost every culture’s cuisine. They are a staple comfort food and in some cases easily eaten on the go, making them popular in street food stalls the world over.

Given the simplicity of the concept, the technique and flavors have to be nearly perfect. The dough needs to hold up to the cooking method, whether it be steamed, fried, boiled, or baked.

The filling should be bold, balanced, and succulent. Because a dry filling will ruin a dumpling, fat is your friend—which is why many dumplings find themselves filled with sausage.

Sausage is generally made with a 70:30 meat to fat ratio, and usually it’s packed with tons of flavorful spices and herbs. Sausage is characteristically defined by the region from which it originates.

Around the world

North America has country sausage, or breakfast sausage. Eastern Europe is beholden to bratwurst and knackwurst. Latin American cultures champion chorizo—which is a bold, flavorful sausage made with ground pork, dried chiles, achiote paste, and herbs. It’s smoky, spicy, and flavorful and makes a great filling for burritos, tacos, enchiladas, and empanadas.

Empanadas are the Latin American style of dumplings. The dough is usually comprised of Masa flour, which is a superfine ground corn meal made from nixtamalized maize. Nixtamalization refers to soaking maize in limewater, or other alkaline solutions to soften the grain and remove certain toxicities to allow the grain to be edible.

For this recipe, the masa is mixed with flour, warm milk and melted butter. The dough has a nice crust but gives way and melts around the filling to perfection. We’re going to pair the rich and chile packed chorizo with sweet potatoes and bright wilted mustard greens. This provides a solid balance for our filling, and makes for a mighty fine hand held meal.

As simple as these seem when they are finished, the process is a little more complicated.


Yellow onion, diced
Sweet potato, peeled and diced
Mustard greens, washed and stemmed
1 bunch
Salt and pepper to taste
-For the dough:
1-1/4 cups
1-1/4 cups
1 1/2 tsp
Baking powder
1-1/2 tsp
Melted butter
1/4 cup
Warm milk
1-1/4 cup


  • Skillet
  • Fork
  • Rolling pin


Brown the chorizo in a skillet on medium-high heat.

Once the sausage has cooked through add the onion and sweat until translucent. Add the sweet potato and cook until it is just soft.

Add the greens and wilt until tender. If the mixture begins to dry out, add a little bit of water or stock to keep hydrated.


Once everything has cooked properly, remove from the heat and spread out on a sheet pan in a single layer Place in the fridge to cool completely.

While the filling cools, make the dough. Sift together all of the dry ingredients, then cut in melted butter with a fork.

Cut in warm milk until the dough becomes a bit tacky. Knead for 3-5 minutes. If the dough dries out, add a bit more warm milk.


Let sit for 5 minutes then roll out into a sheet about 1/8 inch thick.

Cut the dough into circles—the larger the better—and place a fair amount of filling into the dough. For a 2-inch diameter dough round, a tablespoon of filling should suffice.

Brush the outer edge of the dough disc with cold water. Fold over to a moon shape, and with a fork, press the tines into the edge of the empanada to seal it.

Preheat a pot of frying oil on the stovetop to about 350 degrees. Fry two to three empanadas at a time and cook until golden brown and hot in the center. Share with a group of friends before a dinner party, or make it a great snack for family game night. Enjoy.

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